Every time I read 2 Corinthians, I am reminded of the story of Cain and Abel. This story introduces more than murder into the human history, it also describes a gamut of emotions and behavior patterns that we still struggle with today — anger, selfishness and envy.
Abel gave out of faith (Hebrews 11:4). He was a cheerful giver with pure motives. Cain, not so much (Jude 1:11, 1 John 3:12). God sees more than your gift, he sees your motives. Many people today complain that they tithe to their church, or give to charity, but they don’t feel the blessings God promised them. Perhaps it is the spiritual trap of obligation that is getting in the way. Give cheerfully instead of ritually and see what happens.
God warned Cain to take charge of his anger before it led to sin (Genesis 4). He asked him why he was angry. He knew, but he wanted Cain to understand it. He told him that he too would be blessed if he did the right thing in his giving. God also warned him that sin was “crouching at the door” waiting to control him. Cain gave in to his anger.
Some people say Cain was jealous of Abel. Of course he was, but he was also envious. Envy is a particularly evil thing because it goes beyond jealousy. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, envy is an emotion that “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” Note the part I put in bold in that description. In other words, a person lacks something and wants you to lack it too. This flies in the face of the concept of God’s abundance.
There is a difference between jealousy, covetousness, and envy. Jealousy is wanting something like your neighbor. Coveting is wanting the specific thing that belongs to your neighbor (not one like it), which can lead to adultery if you covet his wife, for example. Envy is lacking something and, instead of working harder to achieve it, wishing the other person to lack it too. People often vote out of envy and lack.
So, long before Cain committed murder, he gave in to anger and envy. Sin leads to more sin, as we know. Was Cain’s gift a bad gift? Not really. It wasn’t his best but Cain’s heart was the problem. “Each one must give what he has decided in his heart,” as it says in scripture. He did not give out of love. He gave out of obligation, compulsion, and ritual. That can lead to resentment. Impure motives, as we learn from Solomon (Proverbs 23:7), can ruin a good thing. It’s all about the heart.